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SKELETON

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In dog conformation terminology the area between the dog’s last (floating) rib and the pelvis, is called the loin. In reality, this apparent part of the dog’s lumbar section or midriff, seen from the sides, is the flank. The  upper part of the loin or loin proper, which corresponds to its bearing skeleton, consists of the seven lumbar vertebrae, starts at the end of the last (13th) thoracic vertebra and ends at the sacrum (the edge of the first of the three fused sacral vertebrae). In the Great Dane standards the area is defined as the loin; so although I am aware that several scholars and researchers  have various views about the term and its use, here we discuss this area as loin / lumbar spine or flank, focusing less on terminology issues and far more on the subject of its importance and function.

Let’s see how various standards describe this very important part of the dog.

Starting alphabetically, what does the AKC (GDCA) breed standard tell us about the loin of the Great Dane?  Answer: seemingly very little; the description of the Great Dane loin is just one word – ‘broad’: “Withers shall slope smoothly into a short level back with a broad loin”.

The loin however, unlike what you might come to think about its importance from this very brief mention, is a very critical part of the dog’s spinal column, as it is

a) the less supported part of the spine and b) the part that determines vertical and lateral stability and flexibility of the dog.

It follows, from the above standard description, that a dog with a short back will also have a short loin, so the requirement for it to also be broad sounds like a sufficient definition: a short and broad loin. A rectangular dog will have a longer loin than a square dog. However, we must view this requirement in terms of the necessary flexibility, or rather, the need to have a strong yet flexible lumbar section – especially on a fast running dog like the Great Dane.

The loin, or lumbar area of the dog’s back, is a main protagonist during the dog’s gallop; it’s also crucial for the dog’s ability to turn, rotate and change direction. As it’s not supported by any other bones along its length, it’s the most vulnerable part of the dog’s torso: the loin’s strength is primarily determined by the spinal column lumbar skeleton itself, the muscles attached to it, and its articulation with the pelvis; the loin’s length, therefore, both in absolute as well as in relative terms, i.e. its length in relation to the whole torso, its width and it’s depth, are very important parameters for the dog’s soundness and ability to function. It must be noted here that the length of the individual vertebrae is not the same along the spine: the lumbar vertebrae are longer than the thoracic ones. As a result, the thoracic region, although it contains more vertebrae, is only slightly less than one-third longer than the lumbar region (Miller’s Anatomy of the Dog).

Some of the externally visible loin’s length – the flank – can vary as much as the length of one or two vertebrae, because of the degree of backward slant of the last ribs. The dog always has 13 thoracic vertebrae and 7 lumbar vertebrae so the relative lengths between these two sections of the spine are predetermined (with the thorax being always longer than the lumbar part); what does vary is the length of the flank itself, as the length of the sternum as well as the extension of the ribs backwards and therefore the distance between the last rib and the pelvis varies. Breeding selection plays a major role in these differences. So what we must remember, when looking at a dog or even going over it manually, is if our eyes tell us that the dog is long in loin, and manual measurement confirms this impression, this means that the dog is long-bodied. Yet it doesn’t necessarily mean that the long-bodied dog is also long in absolute terms of ratio: that depends of the length of the legs too, so a long-bodied dog can actually still be square in proportions, if the foreleg + body depth equals the body length (measured from the point of shoulder to the point of ischium, or buttocks (see: measurements).

MUSCLE

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A narrow loin, a thin loin, or a shallow loin, are not able to sufficiently support a giant dog like the Great Dane, particularly during movement. When we look at the topline of the dog and how it behaves at the trot (and at every other gait), a large part of its strengths and weaknesses, such as a sway back, a back that is bouncing up and down or rolling laterally, depend greatly on the loin itself. A very long loin (or flank) corresponds to a short ribcage & sternum (causing a herring-gutted appearance) and is structurally defective. A long loin will correspond to a dog that is longer-bodied. We have varying expressions of body length proportional requirements in the breed standards, as we will see below. The long loin (long body) even when the dog is not herring-gutted, is weaker than a loin of proper (as in, breed-appropriate & individual dog’s size- and sex- appropriate) length. A narrow loin, which corresponds to a narrow pelvis and a narrow ribcage, is a major deficiency problem for the lateral stability for a dog of such height and weight. A narrow, thin or shallow loin on a Great Dane are restricted in efficiency because they simply lack the muscle development necessary to a) support the dog well in static balance, as well as when the dog is actively pulling or gripping while moving backwards, climbing, jumping etc b) transfer the kinetic energy adequately from the hindquarters forward along the spine when the dog is going forwards and also when moving as in ‘a’ above, c) flex without weakness during the gallop and during changes of direction and position.

Very strong forces are applied to the loin during the fast running, jumping, climbing, grappling with prey etc so it’s designed to be an extremely powerful (if not the most powerful) part of the dog: it’s the bridge coupling the two parts of the dog – its front and ribcage to its pelvis and rear and also a conductor of energy – so we must appreciate how weakened this bridge would be without the necessary development of the vertebrae, the pelvis width and the muscularity. Think of the loin as an elastic tube that consists of an inner core made of bone at its upper part (containing and protecting the spinal cord with its motor neurons & nerve fibers and carrying blood veins and arteries), wrapped in fleshy connective tissue & muscle and connecting two moving parts: everything depends on this tube’s efficiency (strength & flexibility, while maintaining the integrity of the spinal column and its articulation to the pelvic bone) in order for these two parts to work in unison and the transfer of power from the rear to the front not to be compromised. Without an optimally functioning, safe and sound bridge, there’s less efficient transfer and even the smallest action becomes problematic, requiring more effort and energy. The dog, being a quadruped, doesn’t just pull itself forward – it propels itself from the rear, so good coupling is vitally essential. During motion, various forces are applied onto the spine at all directions – and the loin / lumbar spine is the connector keeping the structure from falling apart. A weak loin hinders and tires the dog quicker and causes structural damage because the forces applied are not handled efficiently, motion is jarred, the energy absorbed and distributed less evenly and smoothly, putting uneven pressure at the various interconnected parts. When forces are applied to any structure it will tend to break at it’s weakest, thinnest and most exposed (unsupported) area – so the strength of the loin practically determines the strength of the dog. Its the weakest link of the dog’s body – so it must be as strong as possible, while maintaining its flexibility. The whole point of having a loin, after all, is that absolutely necessary flexibility, because the rest of the torso is a more or less rigid cage.

During the gallop the flex of the lumbar back ranges from the most convex to the most concave arc with every stride. We observe that the greatest amount of flexion occurs exactly where natural laws determine it will occur – at the narrowest and most flexible part of the torso, which is the ‘loin’. The lumbar part of the spinal column therefore has to perform efficiently under extreme duress. The loin’s performance is of the utmost importance. The lumbar area contains vital & reproductive organs (the dog’s lower stomach & pancreas, spleen, kidneys, small intestines, bladder, female’s ovaries & male’s prostate are located in this part of the body) so it’s not all available for muscle mass alone; the amount and quality of the bearing skeleton and the muscle that exists there, enveloping & protecting these organs, collaborating with the other muscles in moving the rear legs and connecting the rear to the torso via the upper part (loin proper or lumbar back section), the sides (flanks) and the lower part (the abdomen), is therefore absolutely crucial.

Of course, without proper exercise these muscles will never develop fully or reach maximum fitness (and they never do, in the average house dog, without a proper athletic regime, like the average human never develops the maximum fitness of an athlete and the average domestic dog never develops the maximum fitness of the wild canine; yet even in the case of the supreme athletes, they cannot surpass their own genetically predetermined limitations as to the amount and type of muscle – according to their body type & purpose – they are going to develop, even under the most theoretically positive environmental conditions). What becomes painfully apparent in dogs that are out of condition, fat and unfit, is that  their midriff area is sagging, their abdomen hanging and instead of taut and toned their underbelly is flabby: their movement & quality of life suffer accordingly, their spirit is negatively affected and they are in danger of more serious and permanent health damage. But more importantly even than maintenance & conditioning, the large and durable vertebrae, the good quality & healthy oval bone and intervertebral disks cartilage, the ability of the body to produce the synovial fluid necessary to keep the connecting surfaces well lubricated, the appropriate length, strength and elasticity of the ligaments and tendons as well as the large, strong and appropriately long, at each segment, spinal processes, must all absolutely be there, genetically. The muscle – building ability, amount and type of muscle are genetically controlled too. Proper nutrition and other environmental factors, especially during the embryonic, whelping and rearing stages, as well as epigenetics, needless to say also play a critical part in how optimal or not these elements will become.

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Let’s see what we can find elsewhere:

Back and loins strong, latter slightly arched.  (British/TKC Great Dane standard; note: this standard does not make any mention of the dog’s comparative length)

The withers form the highest part of the back which slopes downward slightly forward toward the loins, which are imperceptibly arched and strong. (Canadian / GDCC standard).

Loin: Slightly arched, broad, strongly muscled. (German/FCI Great Dane standard; note: this standard does not call for absolute squareness but ‘almost square’ while females can be a little longer in body)

The topline slightly sloping backwards, lightly raised (arched) over the relatively short loin and with a smooth transition to the croup, the back dry, absolutely firm and strong, of suitable length to harmonize with the size of the dog, rather short than long.  

The musculature strongly developed, especially in the front. The loin broad and powerful. One cannot exaggerate the importance of the back, not only for forming a harmonic, beautiful topline, but even more so because the strength of the back provides the power, which transitioned to the hind limbs determines the dogs propulsion. (original FCI –Danish- Great Dane Breed standard, 1935)

Original Gt Dane Club UK Standard (1887, 1903)The back and loins are strong, the latter slightly arched as in the Greyhound.

 

Also, let’s look at some other standards of dogs developed for hunting big game:

strong loins which are muscular and slightly arched. (Rhodesian Ridgeback standard)

Loins arched. (Irish Wolfhound standard)

So why do these breed standards, both for the Great Dane and for other breeds who were developed to do the same type of work in the field  (chase & catch big game) ask for a slight arch or rise over the loin ?

To answer this question we must look under the muscle, at the framework:

vertebrae

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Lumbar vertebrae in the loin region are very large strong vertebrae with prominent spines for the attachment of the large muscles of the lower back and upper thigh.

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In the lumbar area or loin we are supposed to find prominent spines to anchor the abdominal muscles.  The lumbar spines are relatively shorter than the thoracic spines but they are still long(ish) and they are also roughly twice as wide as the thoracic spines; together with the larger size of the lumbar vertebrae themselves this indicates the necessary extra power natural selection and evolution favored for this part of the species. Bigger size vertebrae means that they will also be longer than the thoracic ones. Without this large size vertebrae and spines, the area available for muscle attachment would be minimized, with the corresponding lessening in speed, strength, stamina, structural integrity and overall efficiency and well-being or the dog. (The layering of muscle and its thickness is vital for the protection of the organs contained in this area; most prolapses and hernias of internal organs occur here, at the flanks and abdomen). .

 

See how large and broad these forward-leaning spines are in the lumbar spine area.

REAL SKELETON

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So the first reason for the slight rise over the loin is the size development of the vertebral spines. Their shape and array creates the arch. This curve is the result of the need to strengthen this ‘bridge’. 

The second reason is of course the muscle development itself. If the muscle is sufficient in mass and well-developed we should see the loin area appear well-covered and full. If it’s lacking the area would appear sunken, shallow, flat or hollow [it can appear recessed because of the prominence of the iliac crests (hip bones) of the pelvis in some mountain type gazehound breeds developed to bounce and chase quarry on rugged terrain and high plateaus, but that’s not the case in our breed which requires high withers and hips always lower than the withers on mature dogs].

The third reason is genetics: if we select for a flat loin, a flat loin is what we will eventually get. And once we’ve got it, because there are so many genes collaborating in creating a flat loin, so its presence means that it’s ‘fixed’, we are not likely to get rid of it easily.

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In most normally-constructed dogs (and wolves and other wild canines) we see this slight rise, ranging from almost imperceptible to quite obvious or even prominent arc. This curve acts like a bow, storing and releasing energy. The lighter and faster the dog, the most prominent the curvature, so in ‘pure’ (i.e., built for top speed) sighthounds the curve of the topline tends to quite pronounced (this doesn’t apply to more moderate and less fast primitive breeds or other specially – adapted dogs, such as types required to bounce or climb). A dog without this strong and well muscled loin would not be able to achieve the fast gallop that is necessary in order to be an efficient predator. Dogs with a totally flat, weekly articulated loin, insufficient muscle, sagging topline, too long or too short in body, would be useless at hunting and in particular hunting fast game as they would break down quickly or they would be inflexible and therefore unable to sustain both the speed & stamina necessary to catch the prey. If these dogs were natural predators required to feed themselves, they would not survive. The fact that we see this biomechanical model in wild animals, proves that it’s the best blueprint for the canine species. 

 

Being too short in back is definitely the lesser of the two evils – but not by much: such a fault would result in lack of speed & flexibility, loss of kinetic energy at an angle to the spine and defects in limb co-ordination (which of course is another, yet different, big problem, causing necessary compensations as shortening the stride, crabbing, side-winding etc) but it would not result in major damages of the spine itself and structural weakness to the degree that too long a body (and therefore too long a loin) would, on a fast running hunting dog. A lightweight dog like a pure gazehound / sighthound / primitive hound type can get away with being too long to a degree, but a Dane or any other heavier dog simply can’t. A longer bodied-dog moves better at the trot in the confines of the show ring though: so we must always remember that ours is not a trotting breed and although a little extra length is not harmful, a lot of it is. We must not reward the dog that is a more efficient trotter, because our breed was not developed with utmost trotting efficiency as its priority. If we do, and if we preferentially use the best show-ring trotting individuals, we would be gradually changing the essence and the biomechanical model of the Dane into something it wasn’t meant to be. Our breed is a galloping one. So we must not select for superficially pretty and generically pleasing, but for correct, efficient, fit for specific purpose and sound in the long run. 

 

Most of the length of the body must come from the ribcage; if the ribcage and the loin appear to be of equal length, it means the loin is too long for the dog – and long bridges are weaker than shorter ones; this fault can only be produced by a deficient ribcage, as we’ve seen above, because the number of thoracic and lumbar vertebrae on a dog are always the same; a very short ribcage & sternum -a herring gut- and a correspondingly long loin (flank) are a catastrophic combination as they can’t carry the dog efficiently: they lack strength as they lack depth and muscle, again – especially so in a dog of the size and weight of the Dane. A short ribcage and a long loin will result in extending the unsupported part of the spine further towards the middle of the body, closer to where the stronger gravitational forces are applied during movement, which could cause potentially severe injuries or even fractures, as the spines also change direction around the 11/12th thoracic (anticlineal) vertebra (where we observe a slight dip in the topline, especially on immature dogs without full muscle development there) and it’s a sensitive area of the spinal column; the fault would also result in loss of kinetic energy from back to front along the spine at the extended flexion area, with the resulting excessive vertical movement of the back up and down and also rolling of the lower torso – too much flexion and not enough cohesion and support. Such a dog will not look a unit but act loose and disjointed. Typically, dogs that are too long-bodied need to take more steps to cover the ground and they tend to flap their legs about not going anywhere fast. [It’s no coincidence, worth noting here, that most soft tissue injuries and bruising occur along the spine at its weakest part – and many of these go undetected for a long time, until the chronic pounding starts to result in more permanent and potentially dangerous damage to the spine, the vertebrae, the inter-vertebral disks, and compression starts to threaten the integrity of the nerves and the spinal cord itself; the first thing we should check if our dog has a persistent movement fault that cannot be explained by other factors of its anatomy, such as crabbing (moving diagonally), is to look for spinal injuries & dislocations. Excessively deep chests and drawn up abdomens have been suggested as possible predisposing causes in bloat, while torsions in other organs located in the lumbar region may be related to the quality of the connective tissue and muscle tautness in the flank area; it has been proposed that especially thin dogs are in more danger, but the true correlations and causation, as well as specific genetic factors remain unclear and, thankfully, continue to be the subject of research].

Anatomy of Wolf

 

Someone might argue that all this maximum fitness for purpose business that I keep going on about is not necessary for a companion dog, but even in this case biomechanical efficiency is what offers better chances for a long and healthy, injury-free life with less wear and tear and less chances for arthritis and other joint problems in the long run. 

Greyhounds & other lightweight gaze- or sight-hounds are blisteringly fast dogs over short-to-medium distances. They are sprinters. Even the marathon runners among them would need to slow down over longer distances to conserve energy, otherwise (if they attempt to maintain top speed for longer) they would overheat, their muscles, deprived of oxygen, would stop functioning and they would be forced to stop or collapse. A Great Dane, as well as other big game hunters and endurance galloping types, need to maintain high average speed over longer time AND still be able to catch and struggle with a powerful opponent at the end of the chase (and that also means they must be dry dogs, carrying no more weight or fat than necessary and of limbs no thicker and heavier than absolutely required for the size and function of the dog; weight applied to the extremities is more biologically costly, detrimental and counter-productive than weight carried on the main body – so people who think thicker, heavier bone is better or stronger than the optimal amount, end up with dogs that would be useless at anything more than a slow stroll in a park, because they are heavy-legged and lumbering with each step – suffering more joint wear in the process; this was practically found and demonstrated to be true in the case of the foxhounds that went through a period of ‘bone-headness‘ of their stupid masters; and that is exactly where the quest for hyper-type excess is exposed as irrational and detrimental to soundness. On this very subject, see also the excellent treatise of another endurance galloper par excellence, in the authoritative “The Pointer and its Predecessors” by William Arkwright).

Dogs like the Irish Wolfhound, the Rhodesian Ridgeback, the Dogo Argentino, for example, are biomechanical compromises between top speed and stamina. They are endurance gallopers. They represent varying adaptation models, yet in all these absolute speed has been sacrificed for power. There are different big hunting dog blueprints, but they are all specialized big hunting adaptations; the differences are fine-tuned adjustments to the specific quarry they were developed to hunt, how they were required to perform and where. A dog hunting deer & stag must be faster and larger than a dog hunting boar. A game finder is not required to be as strong as a game catcher. A dog running on flat ground is different in equilibrium and angles than a dog built to negotiate rough terrain or a dog that needs to perform on a combination of these, and so on. The Great Dane model, too, is such a compromise, therefore it’s not as curvy or lightweight or long-bodied as a pure gazehound built for the sprint and hunting small game like hares (which needs a longer and more forward-set neck than a gazehound or a dog hunting deer): the shorter back as well as the bigger size and correspondingly stronger head, stronger neck, bigger axis & atlas, bigger vertebrae in general, more bone & body (muscle) mass of the Dane, amount to more power, necessary in tackling bigger, stronger and more dangerous opponents and a variety of large prey – from boar to stag and wolf to oxen.

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Dogo Argentino image source: Dogpark.gr

 

The standard of the Dogo Argentino calls for the muscles along the back and loin to be so prominent that they create a median furrow as they rise on either side of the spinal column along its length. Being smaller than the Dane, the dog would be deficient in strength pound-to-pound without a dash of extra mass and curvature.

But to catch up with its quarry, and to be able to keep going until the prey is exhausted and can run no more, the Great Dane still has to possess both the speed and the sustained galloping power – so a dog with a completely flat or convex, therefore weak loin, or a dog too heavy, or a dog with inadequate (or excessive) rear angulation and therefore deficient propulsion, would be severely compromised in that respect. Yet during the engagement with the prey, the less-angulated hindquarters offer better stability and pulling power. That is why, appropriately, the Great Dane standards sacrificed body length & curves and most call for a squarish dog – balanced between speed, endurance, moderately well angulated hindquarters and agility. A presa (a grip dog) does not require high speed or a huge amount of agility – it can catch up at its leisure while the fast dogs have pursued and cornered the prey and it will be brought in at that stage and released to help hold and immobilize it with its low gravity and superior mass. The Great Dane on the other hand is an endurance galloping dog because the breed’s prey is an endurance galloping animal. Wild boar has been clocked at top speeds of 40 km/ph and deer can easily exceed this at short bursts (up to 48 mph) plus – they are also incredibly agile jumpers and can turn on a dime. The Dane can do the work of two dogs – he can chase and catch and hold, because of his greater size, swift ground-covering and strength. In many respects, a Great Dane has many similarities, as a working model, to that other supreme athlete of dogdom – the Foxhound: a dog that can gallop all day like nobody’s business. Mostly gallop, or canter – not mostly trot at a high average speed, like breeds developed as most efficient trotters, herders and drovers. Their geometry differs as it its dictated by different working requirements. The Great Dane is like an over-sized foxhound in many ways, simply bigger because the Dane’s quarry is a bigger, more powerful animal.

It must be noted here: the notions that only pure sighthounds have the ability for double-suspension rotatory gallop (or that only GSDs can display the flying trot) are simply not true. These gaits have been observed and confirmed by modern technology in a variety of dogs. The ability for the fastest of all canine gaits, the double-suspension gallop, lies on the flexing ability of the spine (and therefore the loin or lumbar spine) more than anything else. And to be optimally flexible as well as structurally sound and efficient, as we discussed, the spine must neither be kyphotic (permanently and inflexibly hunched) nor totally flat or even worse, concave.

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Much of this ability required by the big game hunting dog depends on a relatively small area of its body that we call the loin. It corresponds to the waist area and is the most vulnerable part of the dog’s ‘chassis’. If the chassis (the spine), and particularly the lumbar area or loin, are not up to the job, neither is the dog. So no matter how well-made a specimen is, in all other respects, a poor, weak loin severely restricting its range of motion and efficiency renders it useless. It’s a condemning fault. Judges must put emphasis on it because even on the average house pet a defective loin is going to cause problems of soundness and make the dog prone to spinal damage (injury, compression, inflammation, ankylosis, spondylosis/spondylitis, disk prolapse, vertebral luxation or collapse, scoliosis and arthritis). And like everything else, it’s largely hereditary! I think that judges and breeders (and breed Clubs and standards) must put more emphasis on this very important aspect – and one of the most vulnerable areas of the dog.

Quoting:

  1. “Good length of coupling – the drive is transmitted with minimal loss along the back (providing the ligamentation is good).
  2. Too short in coupling, can if well angulated result in a restriction of reach and drive, as much of the drive is transmitted up and over the back. If this is combined with a low or level wither, the effect seen is “falling on the forehand” ( a desired trait in the OESD – which is an endurance trotting dog, adapted to run ‘downhill’ as its rump is higher that its withers, allowing the breed to be an efficient drover over long distances with maximum comfort & an energy – reserving gait which we call the ‘pace’).
  3. Too long in the coupling, where the drive is lost in the centre of the back due to the length, causing a bouncing movement. If combined with soft ligaments, the effect can produce a “swamp” or “dip back”.  (source)

We often see dogs (especially males) lacking tuck-up. That must not be seen as a positive sign of strength in the loin area: on the contrary, it’s just the opposite – looseness and too much weight (and fat) carried there; even allowing for the male genitalia undercarriage, there should be a definite tuck up to allow for the collection phase during gallop and for the rear legs to gather up efficiently under the body; but no excessive tuck-up, as we’ve discussed above, because that is equally defective. A trotting breed needs less tuck-up, a galloping breed more. Too deep a loin which lacks in tuck-up also results in lack of agility and ability to turn and change direction quickly – and in the big game hunter the ability to change direction and pounce and get out of harm’s way is vital. (The tendency of some of the best of our Danes to jump off vertically on all fours and bounce like a yo-yo is no accident – and it’s not just cute: it’s absolutely precious as it’s an indication that, at least in that respect, they still got what it takes; it must be preserved, together with every other aspect of soundness in mind and body, at all costs). We don’t see the opposite fault – wasp waist – too often in the breed, but when we do see it, it must be penalized. One thing that gets in the way on some individuals is the so-called ‘skirt’ – the flap of skin that connects the upper thigh to the flank;  in some cases the skirt is excessive, so much so that it detracts from the underline and makes it difficult to assess visually; we must go over the area manually on such dogs, to evaluate the tuck up underneath. The skirt itself a minor failing but it does represent a weakness, as this thin and exposed area of skin can get caught or pierced by thorns, sharp branches etc causing profuse bleeding, therefore it’s not desirable and should be addressed in breeding selection.

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excellent loin (and underline) on a male Great Dane

(Maria Gkinala drawing)

The Great Dane’s loin (the dog’s waist) must be relatively short and strong, corresponding to the breed’s squarish proportions, without exaggerations either way: neither too short or too long, nor thin and narrow and shallow like a wasp’s, but it must be wide, deep (yet not excessively so: a hunched loin is inflexible and severely restricts lateral and hind movement, therefore  hindering the transmittance of kinetic energy from the hindquarters) and powerful as befits a big game hunter; it must show a slight rise or imperceptible arch (and we must underscore the imperceptible bit; however, slightly more arch is the lesser of two evils for function – a flat, or even worse, a hollow loin, is as we’ve seen a very debilitating fault (but that is also relative to the croup, which we will examine in a future post). Moderation is the key: nothing in excess. To help drive this last point home, let’s take another look at a fellow gentleman’s no frills workmanlike beauty. It’s rather lovely, methinks…

Females are allowed a longer body therefore a longer loin but again the loin’s strength must not be compromised. There is no real reason for this slightly longer loin to not be as strong as the shorter one, as we are not talking about excessive differences in length, so weakness and sagging toplines and saddle-backs must not be tolerated. We have to emphasize that the breadth of the loin and therefore the area available for muscle development depends on the breadth of the pelvis and the ribcage – so, good spring or rib must be balanced against the caution that the ribcage of the running dog cannot be barrel-shaped: these conflicting factors must be combined by compromise, creating an oval shape (narrower at the bottom and directly behind the elbows to avoid interference that would cause the dog to move out at elbow). The loin doesn’t need to be as broad as the ribcage, of course – but the ribcage itself must not be flat or too narrow (it shouldn’t be too broad either, as that would result in a front that is too wide for a fast dogs). So basically, a broad pelvis serves well as a requirement to facilitate strong loins while also well-serving the female dog with the necessary room for whelping. The broadness cancels out the weakness. Yet again this must be measured against the excessive width that goes with the slower, heavier, barrel-chested, mastiff- or bull-type dog and is very untypical for our breed. It follows that the male too, being in general bigger and broader, should not be much narrower than a bitch, proportionately, at the pelvis, for the basic reasons of strength and stability.

All these considerations lead me to deduce that the British standard arrived at omitting an absolute body length provision, guided precisely by the existence of these often conflicting variables and the need to balance and compromise between them, in order to allow optimal structure, informed in particular by the original version of the standard which called for the back to be “not too long or short”. This might sound vague and inconclusive but it isn’t, to the educated Great Dane student who understands it is a realistic approach to the conundrum and applies natural wisdom and moderation. Standards that attempt to be too precise are counterproductive and could actually damage a breed if they are applied too strictly, condemning good dogs for minor shortcomings (impoverishing the gene pool) and promoting mediocrities with nothing remarkable. (Perhaps I should open a parenthesis here and expand briefly to explain: to achieve progress in breeding there has to be diversity; so the remarkable individual is the one that has this unusual or outstanding quality/ties that differ from the average; so this dog represents an opportunity to enrich by actually gaining different genetic expressions than what is already there in one’s line. Provided of course that the remarkable quality/ies are valid and sound and typical, instead of just a novelty or overdone features). Returning to the main issue, the German standard evolved towards another solution, calling for body proportions to be ‘almost square’ (replacing a previous version which gave numerical percentages for the male and the female being 5% and no more than 10% longer than tall). The American standard calls for absolute squareness and I wonder how practically serviceable this requirement really is, bearing in mind that the ideal foreleg length of the endurance galloping dog is slightly longer, as I mentioned earlier. The GDCA illustrated standard deals with the foreleg length visually in the drawings showing the proportion to be 50/50 against body depth at elbow level.

Finally, the underline must be well-retracted and tucked up (to allow for full leg collection under the body) but not as much as a whippet’s, as the Dane must be “neither a greyhound nor a Mastiff but rather occupy the middle between the two extremes”, like the original standards called for.

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excellent loin (and underline) on a female Great Dane. Notice the imperceptible rise of the topline in the lumbar area.

(drawing by Maria Gkinala)

Suggested reading:

“Real” 3-D Anatomy

Virtual Canine Anatomy (includes muscle)

Miller’s Anatomy of the Dog 

also see “Watch them Run!” which includes recommended reading.

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